The halfway mark has typically been the point at which Steven S. DeKnight and his merry band of writers turn the already high voltage of their series up a notch. Last year, they did so with the spine-tingling fifth episode of Vengeance titled 'Libertus,' which centered on the rather thrilling demolition of a crowded Roman arena.
Meanwhile, Blood & Sand was operating on a 13-episode season and was still working to find its footing in terms of storytelling, but it was also around the halfway mark that things really started to come together for the series.
Thankfully, the same can be said for Spartacus: War of the Damned, which continues to compare Spartacus to his progressively more intimidating foe Marcus Crassus by demonstrating the strategic prowess of both men. Of course, unlike the rousing display that was the fiery collapse of the arena, 'Blood Brothers' ends on a decidedly more foreboding note. One that sees the burning gate of Sinuessa en Valle collapse under the crushing power of the Roman army's newly crafted battering ram, while Julius Caesar looks to Agron, Saxa and Lugo with his defiant charm and informs them: "Now would be the time to run."
Caesar's words (and the episode itself) are a call to action that flies in the face of the supposed patience Spartacus and Crassus have displayed and been accused of overindulging in. But the game these men are playing at requires not only the brute strength of the armies both have at their disposal, but also the wherewithal to utilize that might in the proper fashion. So far, this season has spent considerable time weighing both men's strategic ability against the other, and for every clever turn that Spartacus takes, Crassus' influence seems to be waiting around the corner. It's an intriguing back-and-forth that the writers have cooked up to infuse this final season of Spartacus with an intense rivalry between two men who know one another by reputation alone.
But the window for strategizing is closing on both men, as Crassus is informed of Rome's growing impatience at what the Senate perceives as dawdling. Meanwhile, Spartacus has to deal with a small revolt headed up by the equally impatient and disturbingly bloodthirsty Crixus and Naevia.
Last week's 'Decimation' was a turning point of sorts for both camps. Notably, by the end of the episode, the bond that had formed between Crixus and Spartacus appeared to have been severed – or was, at least, hanging by a mere thread. Meanwhile, following his brutal punishment of the men who turned and ran after facing Spartacus for the first time, Crassus appeared to have lost a son, and gained a soulless, dead-eyed soldier instead. 'Blood Brothers' does a great deal to explore the ramifications of both events, and while one manages a powerful reunification, the other only winds up sinking deeper into the muck of hatred and despair.
It seems as though the rebels are on the brink of some great internal strife that will undo the solidarity that has gotten them this far. The fear that, when Spartacus is finally knocking on Rome's door, the petty needs and unrestrained anger of his men – in particular, the one he'd appointed to succeed him – would bring the whole rebellion crashing down was suddenly very real. But as the show has done several times already this season, there was some cunning trickery at play that wanted certain eyes to see the discord between Crixus and Spartacus; namely, Laeta and the few remaining Roman prisoners, who take what was seen and deliver it to Crassus, believing it to be of significant value.
Later, when Spartacus tells Crixus of his plan – to attack Crassus on two fronts after selling him the false information of a fractured rebel army – it serves to mend their rift enough that, when all hell is breaking loose in the form of Julius Caesar running amok inside Sinuessa en Valle, Crixus springs to action (in spectacular fashion) when he is needed the most.
Things don't go so well over at Camp Crassus, however, as Kore is tasked with mending the broken relationship between Tiberius and his father. The gruesome death of Sabinus that came partially by his hand has put Tiberius in a foul state; one that leads him to a sickening form of retribution that costs Kore dearly. The scene itself is horrific, and made even more so considering the history she has with her attacker.
It's an appalling betrayal of trust, and, in keeping with the story beats of the episode, just one in a long succession of devastatingly duplicitous acts that demonstrate just how outmaneuvered Spartacus has been, despite all the careful planning and seemingly flawless execution of his master plan. At the center of it all was the purchase of Heracleo's loyalty, which would afford the rebels the opportunity to attack Crassus on two fronts. But with the pirate's treachery came the realization that the enemy was clearly several steps ahead, and the only choice may be to heed Caesar's words and "run."
- With visual effects companies in the news recently, let's all take a moment to recognize the wonderful effects work that has been done on Spartacus this season. In particular, the spectacular skyline serving as the backdrop for the raid on Crassus' grain supplies.
- This was the standout episode for Caesar, a character that has shown a lot of promise but was essentially kept under wraps for his big reveal in 'Blood Brothers.' Between his slaying of Nemetes, taking on multiple opponents at once and setting the city's gate aflame, Spartacus officially has another badass on its hands.
- Spartacus continues to suggest that bigger things are in store for Gannicus, and he continues to scoff at such notions by saying things like, "Perhaps I will fall this night, and leave you to weep with the other women."
- That may have been the bloodiest handshake television has ever seen.
Spartacus: War of the Damned continues next Friday with 'Spoils of War' @9pm on Starz. Check out a preview of the episode below: